‘If you’re not prepared to walk away you have no power whatsoever’

By Sarah Jurado, Head of Brand and Communications, CIPD

Negotiating a life, a deal, fair pay, a conversation about race at the board table – successful outcomes rely on five key things: relationships, commonality, behaviour, being non-judgemental, and how one exercises power. And if you’re not prepared to walk away then you have no power at all.

These were just some of the nuggets of knowledge and learning that were shared at the latest CIPD HRD forum on inclusion and voice: How to negotiate and influence those who stand to lose.

Sue Williams, specialist kidnap consultant, and Hilary Gallo, the author of The Power of Soft, shared candid, sometimes shocking, deeply insightful stories, experiences and views on negotiation – from hostages to take-over deals – and how what they do relates to the D&I agenda, to business and the HR and people professions.

Everyone in the room was captivated by the discussion and there was some challenging debate, tackling necessary but at times uncomfortable questions about the continued resistance to change in D&I, why we can’t talk openly about race, and whether positional power allows organisational leaders to hold their workforce hostage to leaders’ beliefs and decisions?

Here are just some of the discussions that were captured from the debate:

Knowing me, knowing you
It’s essential to understand what is negotiable and what is non-negotiable before you go into a discussion. Once you understand your position and you walk into the negotiation the first thing to do is try and build a relationship with the person(s) who you are negotiating with.

This involves creating a sense of trust – ‘because people are at their most productive, creative and open when they feel safe’. Fear in negotiations is damaging because when people are frightened they start trying to solve what they believe to be the problem before fully understanding what the problem actually is. ‘Fear is like a horse we ride and if we don’t have a good relationship [with it] we bolt on it.’

To build relationships we need to actively listen. ‘I want to hear what the other party really needs – not what position they’ve taken or solution they’ve thought of.’

Come on you reds!
It is key to find something that you share in common with those across the negotiating table. For example, in Britain the weather is often a way to find commonality, while in international hostage situations it might be world renowned UK football clubs.

It’s also important to show empathy. ‘When you don’t listen and don’t show empathy; if it is “us against them”, and there is no mutual understanding or no attempt to build rapport, then you lose your ability to influence and change behaviour.’

If someone is in the room, they’re still listening
Focusing on what people do rather than what they say, focusing on their actions not words, will tell you a lot about a person when you are negotiating. ‘Very rarely will people leave the room… If someone is still in the room then they are still listening.’ If you want to create impact, storytelling is key. But don’t tell the story of what you’d like to happen as a result of the negotiation. Tell the story of what has happened in the past to build common ground for arriving to a solution together.

Never tell someone they are wrong
As soon as you’ve told someone they are wrong, or what to think or how to feel, you’ve lost them. People want to maintain their dignity, beliefs and values. When you enter into a negotiation ‘all your filters are gone. You start with a clean sheet. You can deal with an illusion but you don’t enter into it.’ It’s important to suspend your judgement about the potential outcome of a situation – if you don’t, it prejudices the negotiation.

I’ve got the (soft) power
In a hostage situation you must always lower the profile of hostages. ‘Putting your CEO on TV takes it from a straight forward criminal to political situation; it’s not like any other crisis – it’s not about showing leadership.’

In society and in work we are often schooled in ‘imposed power’ which is coercive and top-down. Imposed power ‘thrives on the language of war and winning… it is rooted in hierarchical systems, which can make us feel safe.’

There is another type of power, sometimes referred to as ‘enabled power’, which is ‘emergent, gives people a voice, honours who people are – values the human’.

‘We can’t crack inclusion until we change the dynamic of power.’

The problem with imposed power is that leaders ‘try and fix the people rather than the system. Let’s fix the women, let’s fix the black people…’ We think we’re in a meritocracy, but we aren’t. We are governed by processes and systems.

In some organisations, ‘leaders can cast a shadow and hold their people hostage.’ And often HR is not prepared to challenge. ‘[The profession] suffers from Stockholm syndrome – a desire to belong and be a part of the system. HR fears the conversation because [we] want to be loved and to belong.’

In practice
So, who is responsible in a negotiation? In a hostage situation it will usually be HR working in collaboration with security, taking a lead on preparing family and co-workers after the event, rather than being involved in strategy and planning upfront. But how prepared are HR leaders and their teams for this?

Organisations often work on the assumption that staff based in the UK travelling overseas are the most vulnerable. But, ‘96% of staff taken hostage are locally employed. Does your policy relate to locally employed staff as much as it does to the London-based CEO/chairman?’

Go where it feels uncomfortable
Guests felt that HR was responsible for doing the right thing – negotiating with purpose and with people at the heart. ‘We [HR] do have a voice and it’s important that we don’t hold ourselves to a lower standard – the business partner model doesn’t help. Playing safe doesn’t bring about change; doing the right thing is more important.’

‘I’ve learnt today that I need to start from a position of acceptance when negotiating. We [HR] should not be on our high horse because we live in a world of best practice.’

‘I’m going to worry less about whether I should say something and what I should do. We talk about kind eyes but sometimes we can be a bit too kind and need to be more forceful.’

‘I’m making a commitment to go where it feels uncomfortable.’

The role of the CIPD
To round off the session we asked guests to propose one thing the CIPD should do on the inclusion agenda. Suggestions included:

‘Destroy the HR business partner model’

‘Move the conversation along; break down and dismantle practices that have failed the system’

‘Go bigger and larger in terms of our ambition for the people function – be more controversial. We have so much power – we must be prepared to step out.’

‘We want to feel empowered to challenge – examples and practical steps would be helpful.’

‘Be more diverse: the CIPD doesn’t look or feel very diverse to me, as a member. We [HR leaders] also want to have a different quality of debate – for members and non-members. Let’s get people talking – that’s the opportunity: to make people think about how they do things in a different way.’


About the HRD Forum: inclusion and voice
In October 2016 the CIPD, with support from Jericho Chambers, brought together 200 people who are passionate about the future of work to share, develop and debate emergent ideas about what a more human future of work could look like, at The Big Tent. The Future of Work is Human movement was born…

A number of themes emerged from The Big Tent – inclusion and voice; skills; modern working practices and governance, risk and reward – all areas in which the CIPD is invested in developing and exploring.

Jane Storm, Group HR Director at Connect Plc, was inspired to continue the debate on inclusion and voice with HR leaders, given D&I continues to be a major focus in leading large scale people businesses. In 2016, while Group People Director leading Capability at Tesco, Jane started collaborating with the CIPD and Jericho Chambers and started the HRD Forum on inclusion and voice. It is an informal network of HR leaders who meet quarterly to have engaging, often difficult, candid conversations about the big issues of inclusion and voice in the workplace and how they impact on people, the world of work and the profession.

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  • Thank you for sharing this fascinating insight, Sarah - I wish I'd been there!  There are a lot of takeaways there for employee engagement, leadership and talent management throughout.

    For what it's worth, speaking as one who came late to the CIPD, I would echo the comments above that suggest that, to really have influence and add value in these (or any other) scenarios, HR needs to see itself (and be seen) as an integral part of the organisation/business, not something somehow on the outside.  I've never heard anyone call themselves a 'marketing partner' or 'finance partner' and I think that reflects a different mind-set.

    Thanks again, I really enjoyed reading that blog.